Monday, December 31, 2007

The Lush Life

One of my favorite flavor combinations is chocolate and cherry; cherry cordials and black forest cake send me to a special place. The Base Bar here in Chicago combined this goodness in an excellent chocolate cherry martini. Here's my take on it. This drink is for the grown and sexy; drink with caution.
You'll need EFFEN Black Cherry Vodka, Godiva Dark Liqueur, cocoa, maraschino cherries and bittersweet chocolate shavings. This is not a cheap drink!

Chill the martini glass and dust the rim with cocoa. Add 2 parts EFFEN and 1 part Godiva Dark to a martini shaker with ice. Shake well. Pour into glass. Garnish with cherries. Sprinkle very lightly with chocolate shavings.

If you like, you can add a splash of Godiva White to the martini shaker. Your cocktail will look like this. I prefer it without Godiva White.

Happy New Year's! (If you finish an entire martini, you may need to bring your New Year in with Dick Clark.)

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Looking Forward to Turkey Salad??!

I know a lot of people dread holiday leftovers. Thanksgiving seems to generate the most need for creativity when it comes to leftovers. We've come up with some good uses over the years -- my aunt has found a killer turkey gumbo recipe.

I look forward to the tried and true. I freeze my turkey leftovers with a smile -- I know there's turkey salad in my future. It's good right after Thanksgiving, but it's even better when you make it weeks afterward. I broke out my frozen Thanksgiving bird today.

I like a lot dark meat in my turkey salad. I use some strong flavors in my turkey salad and the dark meat can stand up to them.

Like most people, I use celery, onion, boiled eggs, pickle relish and mayo. I veer off the beaten path with poultry seasoning, Dijon mustard and fresh parsley. The base of the salad is leftover turkey with mayo; you have to jazz it up. Besides, I am not a huge mayo fan. (Shhh! You can hear Paula Deen gasping.) I use the Dijon, parsley and the special stuff below to cut the mayo's heaviness and brighten it up. Keep your Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper handy too.

If you are lucky or foolish enough to own an asparagus pot, it is great for making hard boiled eggs. (Hey. I know everyone isn't as crazy about kitchen equipment as me.) I use almost all egg whites in chicken, turkey and potato salad. Today I used four whites and one yolk.

I think I'm in new territory with these ingredients: Worcestershire sauce, Spike and fresh lemon juice. When I lived in New Orleans, there was a sandwich shop near my job. Those folks made the best egg salad I'd ever had! One day I just asked what made the sandwiches so good. The answer was Spike! I've been a convert ever since.

Get it all in and stir.

This is best after some bonding time in the refrigerator (a few hours), but I have a little as soon as it's mixed. Cook's privilege! This does not keep well. After an entire night in the fridge, you'll find that the dressing has thinned considerably. If planning ahead, make this the day of and not the day before.

Tools of the trade:

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The Most Wonderful Time of The Year

Last night, if my kitchen had been clean, I could've die happy. I had a great leisurely cooking day; I didn't eat Christmas dinner until almost 7. I'd cook, watch TV, cook some more, talk on the phone, play on the computer. It was a beautiful thing.

I think I spoke with almost everyone in my family twice. My friends and I traded holiday greetings via text messages. Santa brought me the NordicWare Shortcake Baskets pan. He'd dropped off a New Orleans desserts cookbook from one aunt and a Target gift certificate from another aunt earlier.

Once I fully woke up, I started the morning off with a special breakfast -- sweet potato waffle (just mixed in some left over pie filling into the waffle batter), sausage and hooked up coffee (Kudos to Godiva and Starbucks on their wonderful liqueurs.)

Now what I have to have at formal dinner holidays (Easter, Thanksgiving and Christmas) is dressing. I made extra during Thanksgiving and froze it. I didn't want a lot of rich and heavy sides, so I focused on fresh veggies. I also wanted something a little different this year.


  • Roasted Butternut Squash with Balsamic Vinegar Reduction
  • Roasted Beets (Cook's Illustrated)
  • Braised Brussels Sprouts with Tarragon-Mustard Butter (Cook's Illustrated)
  • Green Beans with Sauteed Shallots and Vermouth (Cook's Illustrated)
  • Cornish Hen with Dressing
  • Red Velvet Cupcakes (Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook)

In the interest of eating before midnight, I poured the dressing into a 10" skillet, butterflied the Cornish hen and heated the pan on the stove top. I finished it in the oven.
Plating is always a labor of love; I think I'm getting a little better at it.

The winners were the beets and Brussels sprouts! Actually everything was good. The green beans could have stood another minute or two of cooking. The cupcakes were wonderful except it's a struggle to get them out of their silicone cups. I gotta do some more research on those.

Tools of the trade:

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Red Velvet Love

It is not Christmas without a red velvet cake! It is one of my favorite cakes of all time. It is so beautiful and fits so well with the holiday. In Little Rock, I could count on one from Shana's mama. In New Orleans, I could get my fix at CC's. I think I wrote the headquarters when the location near me kept running out. For two years, I've elected to make cupcakes instead of a cake (better portion control and easier storage -- throw them in the freezer). Besides, I like decorating cupcakes more than I like decorating whole cakes.

My favorite recipe is from Sylvia's Family Soul Food Cookbook. I make just two modifications -- 1 oz. of food coloring instead of two and in the future, I'll add salt to the frosting to cut the sweetness. If you're making it for the first time, try it as is. Remember red velvet isn't a chocolate cake; it has a hint of chocolate. It's more about how the cocoa, buttermilk, vinegar and vanilla play together.

Don't use Dutch processed cocoa. I don't quite understand the science about which to use if the recipe calls for baking soda or baking powder, which may be a factor here. I do know that regular cocoa powder produces a baked good that is more red and red is what we want!

Good baking starts with weighing your ingredients. I'm lazy, so I usually weigh mine in the mixer bowl or the food processor bowl.

Alton Brown gave a great tip for sifting -- don't! Use a food processor instead.

What's so special about this? Keep reading.

Add the food coloring ...

And you get this!

Look at how red it bakes up! (Southerners, rejoice!) And yes I had to sacrifice some cake for decorating purposes. I got to use my mini food processor bowl and blade, so it was worth it.

I did manage to avoid sticking my face into the frosting bowl.

BAM!!! Red velvet cupcakes.

Tools of the trade:

Christmas Morning

It's 3:47 Christmas morning. My pound cake has been in the oven for a little over 30 minutes and I think I'm sleep walking or sleep blogging. The cake is a do-over. When the efficient, energetic me got in yesterday after two rounds at Target, a trip to the bank and Home Depot after a 5 a.m. rise to make dressing and sweet potato pie after having stood on my feet for four hours welcoming Christmas shoppers the night before -- I set the oven to 200 degrees. ( How's that for Faulkneresque?) Two hours later, I wondered why I didn't smell cake throughout the house. After adjusting the temp, it still didn't come out right. Since it was for someone else's Christmas dinner, I had to make it again.

This is the most requested thing I make. It's not baked crack like Cakeman Raven's red velvet cake in Brooklyn, but it is the best damn pound cake I've ever had. It is unbelievably moist with this crust that just gets better the next day. I thought about getting the new Nordic Ware Anniversary Bundt pan for it, but it would ruin the crust to serve it upside down. I might get the pan anyway. Who am I kidding? Of course I'm getting the pan. I haven't made a Bundt cake since high school.

I digress. People have tried to recreate my pound cake because I won't give out the recipe. The funny thing is, I'm not even a big pound cake fan. Give me a cake with some icing. I only bake this cake for others.

I sit here now half dazed, not quite sleepy enough to go back to bed and not awake enough to really cook anything else. The last time I tried to cook in this state, I got a little too careless with my knife skills. I know the next items on the docket should be the red velvet cupcakes and dinner rolls, but they will have to wait. I think I'll watch A Christmas Story.

I haven't completely figured out my own Christmas menu. I have a Cornish hen and lots of fresh veggies: Brussels sprouts, potatoes, carrots, green beans, sweet potatoes, beets and butternut squash. I'm not quite sure about what I want to eat or how to prepare it.

Back to the cake:

I cream the butter and sugar forever. I use the time to gather the other ingredients and prep the pan.

Each egg is fully incorporated before adding the next one.

This is a no-holds-barred pound cake. Look at how thick the batter is! I've seen recipes that have called for cake flour instead of AP. If you want a lighter cake, make a different type. This is one tradition I will not break.

The batter is four pounds! It won't move unless you move it.

Look at the top.

Heaven in your mouth!
Tools of the trade:

Monday, December 24, 2007

Sweet Potato Pie

My sister-in-law makes the best sweet potato pie I've ever tasted. She gave me the recipe a few years ago. I had been making it by the book, but I started tinkering with it this Thanksgiving. I made some additional enhancements today. I may have improved perfection! First, I make my own crust. My family just doesn't do the scratch crusts anymore; Pet-Ritz crusts have treated us well all these years. We've kinda moved up to the ones you unfold and bake.

I'm the one to break tradition. Let me say here that the food processor can be your best friend when making pie dough. Love your food processor. Name your food processor. Miracle is below.
If only I would learn how to flute properly. I want angled flutes, but I end up with these each and every time.
Hopefully, your potatoes are cooking while you make the crust. My family boils the potatoes. I bake them. You've heard me say it before:  roasting intensifies flavor and helps those natural sugars do their thing. See the caramelization in the left pic below, that's what you're looking for. You'll never get that kinda flavor with boiling!

The most important thing when making sweet potato pie is to mash the potatoes while they are hot! You'll end up with stringy foolishness if you let them cool before mashing. Old Faithful, my KitchenAid stand mixer, makes quick work of mine. You will have a few strings, but they should be stuck to the paddle. Do not mix them back in.
As far as the rest of the ingredients go, they are standard: sweetened condensed milk, eggs, sugar, vanila, nutmeg and cinnamon. I wish I had a beautiful photo to end with, but it is what it is. When I take the pies out of the oven, they're a little puffy. They deflate as they cool. This pies were for someone else, so I couldn't cut into them. I did make a test pie (dough scraps and left over filling) and it was good. I hope these are liked.

 Tools of the trade:

Dressing My Way

First things first. I'm all about dressing versus stuffing. Dressing bakes as a separate dish so it gets nice and brown and crispy on top. We are a dressing family.

With that said, there are a million ways to make dressing. Time in New Orleans gave me an appreciation for oyster dressing. I've made some close approximations to sausage dressing. In other versions, I've seen people add dried cranberries and nuts.
I have to say that my favorite is cornbread dressing with apple, celery and onion. We typically make it the day before the meal, so the flavors can meld in the refrigerator. It tastes so much better!

Here is where the opinions differ in my family. First there's the type of cornbread. Before I found a good cornbread recipe, I made mine with Jiffy mix. This is heresy! Not that I use a mix, but that I use Jiffy, which is on the sweet side. I like Yankee cornbread -- fluffy like cake and sweet. Save the unsweetened stuff for hush puppies. I crumble my cornbread and leave it out to stale.

Then there's the issue of how to cook the vegetables. I was taught to boil the veggies until they turned to mush and then add them and the flavorful broth to the dressing. A few years ago, I started sautéeing the veggies (the purchase of some new All-Clad fry pans and sauté pans can be very inspirational.) Besides, I like texture. I also want to be able to see what I'm eating.

Lastly, we have an herb debate. I love sage! It is one of my favorite herbs. I like a good strong sage flavor. The joke was that there's so much sage in my dressing, it's almost green. My dad and one aunt are with me on that. The second part of the herb issues is dried versus fresh. Once I switched to fresh, I never looked back -- thyme, extra rosemary and of course lots of sage.

We do agree on the use of butter!

I made dressing this morning for someone. I used a different brand of chicken broth. It was a bit salty for my taste. I was able to get things under control by adding extra unseasoned bread cubes.

The test batch was delicious! (Yeah, I ate it with a spoon.)

Tools of the trade:

Friday, December 21, 2007

There Is Something Good About Breakfast

I've said it before. I love breakfast, even if I eat it at noon (like today). I'm revisiting my thoughts on breakfast because now I have a loaner digital camera. Usually I eat a real breakfast while watching the Food Network. Almost as good as FN is a James Bond movie. Goldfinger, one of my favs, is on right now.

First up, turkey breakfast sausage. I take a pound of turkey and add fennel, mustard, pepper, salt and fresh herbs. Mix all the ingredients together and chill it for an hour before forming into patties.

I place the formed patties on parchment and freeze them before placing them in a freezer container. This way I have ready-made portions.

Moving on to the coffee. I was at Costco and they had freshly roasted coffee beans. They smelled so good. To keep that great aroma, I store my beans in a Bean Vac. A couple of spins in the KitchenAid coffee grinder and I'm ready to make coffee.

Ahhh. The waffle. I added pecans today for a special treat. I'm particular about my waffles. I do not like Belgium waffles and I think the best on Earth are made by the Waffle House. My favorite waffle maker is the Villaware Classic. It has amazing temperature control.

Everything is ready! Let's eat.

Tools of the trade: